Tips & best practices from fellow journalists
So you want to effectively make your reporting more inclusive and gender-balanced? Here are some tips by journalists who have been working at that, too, for some time now. They were kind enough to share their insights with us all (and we thank them for it!), so if at some point you, too, have figured out some useful hacks on including gender in your regular routine as a journalist, please do send them our way to add to the list.
A good place to start is taking a critical look at your own work, advises Francesca Donner, former gender editor at The New York Times. In your stories so far, what’s the percentage of women you’ve interviewed? How much space did you give them? What kind of role did they play in each of them? (how stereotypical, etc.) It seems to be quite a common thing among journalists: we might think our reporting is more inclusive than it actually really is. “I felt I care about equality, I thought that I was doing a pretty good job in trying to give an equal voice to women in science and tech in the areas that I cover. And actually, when I did this analysis of my stories, it ended up being exactly the same as what Adrienne [LaFrance] found, 25%. So men outnumbered women as quoted experts in my pieces by a ratio of three to one,” recounts Pullitzer-winning science journalist and author Ed Yong.
From then on, try to start keeping track. “Like in a very regular, frequent, rigorous way,” says Ed Yong. It’s the most important step when you’re starting out because it gives you a sense of progress and accountability. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complicated. “I just had a very, very, very simple Excel spreadsheet. Like every story, I wrote down the number of men and women who I contacted for a comment or for a quote, the number of people who got back to me and were featured in the actual story.”
For when you’re researching a story
Do the same search, but a little more. Whenever you can don’t go for the obvious, same old sources. It will take a bit more time, but not as much as you’d think. Ed Yong estimates it takes him between 15 minutes and half an hour more per piece to find a lesser-known, but just as competent source, despite the fact that he covers very niche subfields. And he has found it made a huge difference in the quality of his pieces. He did also win a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, which featured many women in active roles, so he might be onto something.
For when you’re working with data
Get comfortable with having your assumptions contradicted. That has been one of Shreya Raman’s biggest learnings as a data journalist focusing on gender. As she points out, whenever we start working on a story, we each come in with our own set of assumptions. It’s only human. As we do our research, we get acquainted with more information that might challenge those assumptions and build other assumptions. Then once on the field, again — assumptions might get shattered. So you have to get comfortable with constantly having to adapt.
Question data. When’s the last time you looked at the methodology of a study before using the data it provided? Maybe it’s time to start doing that on a regular basis (we vow to try and do that, too, from now on!). “You have to treat data as a source, you have to question it,” says Shreya Raman. It might seem like a hassle, but the methodology behind a survey or a study gives you a much-needed context to really make sense of the numbers and helps your reporting be more accurate. It also allows you to understand the limitations of the data provided, and spot the usually unnoticeable data gaps (what parameters weren’t considered, what questions weren’t asked). Keep in mind that data about women is particularly tricky. Read about the gender data gap.
Tell it how it is. A lot of people go to news outlets, expecting journalists to have all the answers. Needless to say that we rarely do, so putting things in perspective — in all transparency — is important. Shreya Raman points out how essential it is to always remind readers, viewers, listeners of the bigger picture, even if it’s just through a sentence.
For when you’re looking for story ideas
Take a look at the facts. Over time, big issues (like the pay gap) can turn into “white noise,” says Annette Young, news anchor and creator of “The 51 Percent” on France 24. One has to go past that, as there is a lot to uncover through some targeted research and a good look at the facts. Despite the progress made, there is still a long way to go to reach equality (286 years when it comes to legal protections for women and girls, for instance). Putting the focus on women remains relevant.
Make the best of what data has to offer. As flawed as it can be, data can tell you many interesting things because behind each data point, each number, there is someone’s story. You can find value even in a small study, as long as you understand its specific context (once again, the importance of checking the methodology!).
For when you’re pitching stories
Change is a slow process and begins from the inside: within oneself, and within the newsroom. If you keep pitching (again and again) gender-sensitive stories, it might encourage your colleagues to dare and pitch their own. It might seem idealistic, but Annette Young has noticed a positive impact in her newsroom thanks to the success of her show. Maybe you could help inspire some change, too?
For when you’re producing a story
Think about how you frame the story. “Is the woman always presented as the victim? Do we interview women in conjunction with their husbands somehow?” These are the kind of subtle ways gender bias can come in and undo the progress you’ve been making with gender balance in your reporting. “You know, at The Times, we looked at some of our kind of, like, our hurricane coverage,” recalls Francesca Donner. “And we often kind of fell into the trap of saying— You know, we would have, Mr. So-and-So says, you know, ‘our house has been lost and we need better government oversight.’ And then they would interview Mrs. So-and-so and she would say, ‘yes, we were so worried. We’re really scared, you know.’ And so there’s like this sort of gendered kind of discrepancy in how people were even responding to those kinds of questions or the types of questions that we ask.”
For when you’re feeling low or discouraged
“Don’t give up,” says Annette Young. “There is a place for this reporting. And I know at times you might feel like you’re alone, that you don’t get the required amount of support, but keep in mind there are people out there who are doing the same thing.”